From: Deer Farmers' Library (www.deer-library.com)|
The most common questions that I am asked by deer and elk producers have to do with whether these animals must be inspected in order for the meat to be sold within the state, nationally or around the world.
The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS) regulates meat and poultry in interstate commerce and foreign export by federal law. There are two federal laws, one that addresses meat, and the other poultry. Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, mandatory inspection is required for cattle, sheep, swine, goats and equines. No mention is made of elk or any other member of the cervidae family. Elk and elk meat are therefore "nonamenable" to the federal law and exempt from requirements for meat inspection for intrastate, interstate or foreign export.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food in interstate commerce and through various agreements, and assists the states in regulating food in intrastate commerce. Uninspected venison is food, just like bread, candy bars or potato chips, and as such is under the authority of the FDA when in commerce. All food must come from an "approved source" in order to be sold in retail stores and restaurants. An "approved source" does not mean that the deer or elk must be inspected; rather it means that the facility where the animal was slaughtered and processed is inspected. The most common "approved source" for uninspected venison is a licensed food establishment, a federally inspected meat plant, or a state inspected meat plant.
Even though federal law does not require venison to be inspected under the federal meat inspection law, uninspected elk/deer meat is not legal for sale in all states. Some states with state inspection programs require elk and other animals that are sold there for food to be inspected.
A provision in the federal law permits the states to enter into cooperative agreements with USDA/FSIS and permits the states to provide a mandatory meat inspection program that is "equal to" the provisions of the federal law. The federal law provides that USDA/FSIS will fund 50% of the cost of the state program. There is a "catch" in the federal law that limits state inspected cattle, sheep, swine, and goats to intrastate commerce only.
Iowa and 24 other states regulate the plants that market in intrastate commerce only. We use the same rules. Why the two programs? The thinking is that local officials who provide guidance and direction along with regulation are best suited to regulate small businesses. State officials are also more likely to be accountable to industry and elected state officials.
It is not a good idea to market uninspected venison. There are several reasons for this.
Some of the states with state inspection programs mandate additional animals to be inspected under their state meat inspection act. These are in addition to the animals mandated by federal law. In Iowa, fallow deer, sika deer, red deer and elk must be inspected in order to be sold for food.
There are two basic reasons for this. One is food safety. The other involves costs of inspections. If an animal is mandated to be inspected under state or federal law, the inspection costs are paid for by tax dollars. If a voluntary inspection is requested, then the person requesting it must pay for it. USDA/FSIS offers a voluntary inspection program at about $40 per hour.
Many customers are likely to demand that venison be federally inspected. Meat buyers, especially those who purchase for firms that have outlets in several states, are aware of the federal meat inspection requirements to a point. They know that cattle, sheep, swine, goats and domestic poultry must be federally inspected for legal sales in interstate commerce. They are not familiar with the requirements for other animals, including elk, so they request what they are familiar with – federal inspection. They do not know that state inspected elk meat is not bound by state lines. In addition, many buyers do not know that state inspected elk is eligible for sale in all states, including states with state inspection programs. Perception and incomplete information on the specifics of the federal meat inspection laws are real problems.
Venison exports outside the USA are another issue. The international community sets their own standards as far as what meat will be imported into their countries. Countries that are willing to import elk carcasses or elk meat may demand USDA/FSIS inspection.
State inspected slaughter and processing plants that maintain "official" status can slaughter and process your deer or elk under state inspection, and manufacture a variety of cuts and specialty products to meet your needs. You may develop your own private label by working with the plant owner and inspection staff. You can do the same thing in a federally inspected establishment by working with the plant owner and federal inspector. There is often a prior label approval process so you need to start early before your products are ready for market.
One hundred percent elk meat, state inspected or not, cannot be processed into a 100% elk meat product that bears the mark of voluntary federal inspection. Only voluntary federally inspected elk can be made into a 100% elk product that bears a voluntary (triangular) mark of federal inspection. So, if you want 100% elk products made into products that bear a voluntary federal mark, you must have the elk slaughtered and processed under voluntary federal inspection.
Now for the confusing part. Since elk are "nonamenable" to the mandatory inspection requirements in the federal law, elk/deer is considered by USDA/FSIS to be a "nonmeat" ingredient that may be used in federally inspected "amenable" meat products that are mandated for federal inspection. In order for the meat product to be mandated for federal inspection, it must contain more than 3% meat (cattle, sheep, swine, or goats), or 30% fat from these species, or 2% cooked poultry, all from USDA/FSIS inspected sources. In order to be used as an ingredient in a federally-inspected "amenable" meat product, the elk meat must come from an "approved source." An approved source would include product that has been inspected by a federal, state or foreign inspection program.
The end result is a federally inspected meat product that can be primarily state inspected elk meat with a small amount of "amenable" USDA/FSIS inspected meat or cooked poultry. The finished product would bear a round mark of mandatory federal inspection by virtue of the addition of federally inspected meat components.
[In Canada, the requirements are somewhat less complex. Meat from any animal slaughtered at a provincially inspected facility can only be sold within the province. Meat processed in federally inspected plants can be sold anywhere in Canada and exported. Meat for export to the European Union countries requires special EU approved facilities, which are available in Canada. The issues with developing a venison market for Canadian producers are not so much with inspection, but sufficient supply to make it cost-effective for plants to process specialty livestock - Editor]
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